A desk clerk mistook the body of a 96-year-old woman who committed suicide for a mannequin Wednesday and placed it in a dumpster with the help of two newspaper deliverers, according to the St. Petersburg Police Department.
The woman’s body was first found about 4:30 a.m. outside the Peterborough Apartments at 440 Fourth Ave. N., police said. A 61-year-old desk clerk taking a smoke break saw the body in the building's south parking lot.
The clerk thought someone was playing an April Fools' Day prank and returned to work, police said. Two hours later, another apartment building employee arrived and alerted the clerk to the body. He told her it was a prank.
That’s when the clerk put the body in a dumpster with the help of a mother and son delivering newspapers. Police said he thought the body was a mannequin with fake blood.
"His first reaction to this was that it was an April Fools prank," said Mike Puetz, St. Petersburg Police Department spokesman. "A 16-year-old boy actually helped him carry the body to the dumpster where again they thought they were disposing of a mannequin."
About 8 a.m., an apartment maintenance worker found the body and realized it was that of a human.
Police said the woman was depressed and left a suicide note in her apartment before she jumped from her window on the building’s 16th floor.
"It appears at this point that the desk clerk earnestly believed that victim's body was that of a mannequin and that blood found at the scene was faked as part of an elaborate practical April Fools joke. Consequently no criminal charges will be filed," the police department said in a statement.
Police said due to the time of day the body was first noticed, darkness could have played a role in their confusion. They also believe the body was distorted from the impact and rigor mortis had most likely set in.
"Most people that are looking at this are going to assume that these people are all fools, but honestly it does appear that this was just an honest mistake," Puetz said.
Friends and fellow residents in the Petersborough Apartments for Seniors were stunned by the news. They've since laid a memorial of flowers outside.
"I was absolutely devastated," Nancy Sanborn said. "She was such a wonderful, upbeat, polite, gentle, intellectual woman."
When asked about the fact that her friend was mistaken for an April Fools prank, Sanborn said, "Sometimes in life things happen that people are not prepared for."
According to police, the desk clerk was fired as a result of this incident. Police are still working to notify the elderly woman's next of kin.